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9 Fun and Educational Toys for Dogs

Behaviorist Karen London shares her list of must-have toys for dogs.

by Karen B. London, PhD
June 21, 2021
Miniature Schnauzer dog playing with a ball at home
Matt Hunt / Stocksy

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Choosing toys can be daunting — the good ones need to be safe, fun, and not outrageously priced. Durability is an important factor too. A good toy should last a reasonable amount of time and ideally shouldn’t turn into jagged landmines that, when stepped on in the middle of the night with bare feet, cause you to lose your PG rating.

But what’s the most important consideration when getting a new toy for your pup? Whether you’re getting chew toys, balls, stuffed, or puzzle toys, the main purpose of dog toys is to enhance play and promote dog learning. Here are nine of the best educational dog toys that check all the boxes.

1. Puzzles.

Dogs learn when they play, and some toys, such as Nina Ottosson’s Puzzles, are designed specifically with a dog’s education in mind. Dogs can spend hours happily playing with these puzzles, learning to use mouths, paws, and noses to manipulate objects.

2. Snuffle Mat.

Another educational favorite, the snuffle mat, is a good way to provide dogs with opportunities to use their most highly developed sense to sniff out treats and other bits of food. They are engaging and enriching — from young pups learning the “find it” skill to senior dogs who delight in sniffing around for their treats.

3. Kong.

If a household has only a single dog toy, it’s likely to be from the Kong line. These nearly indestructible hollow dog toys can be filled with almost any kind of food, including treats such as cheese, peanut butter, cream cheese, or biscuits, which the dog will then spend enormous amounts of time removing. Many dogs who are not toy-motivated learn to love them after experiencing the Kong.

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4. Ball.

Some dogs get over-the-top excited about fetching tennis balls, and if your dog is one of those pups, you should pause to be grateful because never was there a less expensive, more versatile toy. If you’re grossed out by the idea of handling a slimy ball, get a Chuckit!, a plastic tool that you can use to scoop up and toss the ball without ever touching it.

5. Flying Disc.

Fetch games with flying discs (aka Frisbee®) are even more fun and exciting to some dogs than fetching balls. The Chuckit! Flying Squirrel and the Hurl-a-Squirrel are both popular with dogs. The Soft Bite Floppy Disc floats in water and is hot pink, making it easy to locate after an errant throw (yeah, I have experience with that). Regular flying discs can injure dogs’ teeth, so I recommend these kinder, gentler types.

6. Fleece Tug Toys.

Though a knotted rope will suffice, the Clean Run Fleecy Braided Tug — a long, stretchy braid of fleece — is even better for tug games. The high-quality fleece material doesn’t get as slimy as most tug toys or become as strongly smelling of dog breath.

7. Removable Stuffed Plush Toys.

These plush toys — which come in various styles like the Frisco Plush Squeaking Peapod & Peas — have removable squeaky plush balls (in this case, “peas”) hidden inside a pouch. Dogs can pull the balls out through the opening, which is fun for those who love searching for and finding treasures.

8. Rippable Toys.

Dogs love to rip things apart, and Tearribles are actually designed for it. Their pieces are attached with Velcro® and can be reattached in a variety of ways. Many dogs love the ripping sound the Velcro® makes as much as the feeling of pulling the toy apart.

9. Faux Critter Toys.

If you have forgotten that your pup is a predator, and a superb one at that, they’ll destroy a toy to remind you. Plush toys to rip apart and squeaky toys to pounce on are prized by most dogs. The West Paw Rowdies is a great choice for tough pups with eco-friendly pet parents. For dogs who like the chase, try Bouncy Burrow Buddies, fur-covered balls with furry tails attached. You’re unlikely to meet a dog who does not go wild over it.

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Karen London holding up a small dog

Karen B. London, PhD

Karen B. London, Ph.D., is a Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist and Certified Professional Dog Trainer who specializes in working with dogs with serious behavioral issues, including aggression, and has also trained other animals including cats, birds, snakes, and insects. She writes the animal column for the Arizona Daily Sun and is an Adjunct Professor in the Department of Biological Sciences at Northern Arizona University. She is the author of six books about training and behavior, including her most recent, Treat Everyone Like a Dog: How a Dog Trainer’s World View Can Improve Your Life.